Oil Kings at a crossroads

Edmonton's Travis Ewanyk is checked by Devon Oliver-Dares of Saint John in Monday's Memorial Cup...

Edmonton's Travis Ewanyk is checked by Devon Oliver-Dares of Saint John in Monday's Memorial Cup game (Didier Debusschere, QMI Agency).

Terry Jones, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:56 AM ET

SHAWINIGAN, QUE. — There’s never been a situation like this before in the 94-year history of the Memorial Cup.

OK, for the first time in the 29-year history of the current tournament format, all four teams go forward with 1-1 records after their first two games.

It’s like this.

If the Edmonton Oil Kings lose to the London Knights Tuesday, they’ll have to beat all three teams in the tournament, one after the other, all in elimination games over a stretch of four days to win the Memorial Cup.

Gulp.

But if they bounce back and beat the OHL representatives and get the right result in the final game of the round robin between the two QMJHL teams, Edmonton would go direct to Sunday’s final.

Aaah.

There’s the hard way. Or there’s the easy way. Take your pick. And not just for Edmonton. For everybody. And that’s probably as it should be with the WHL, OHL and QMJHL regular-season winners all going through the playoffs to become league champions for the first time since 1979.

“I really think it says something about how special this tournament is this year,” said Saint John Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant after his defending Memorial Cup champions bounced back from a 5-3 loss to London with a 5-2 win over the Oil Kings.

“If you play well, you’ll win. If you don’t, you won’t.”

The question after a wobbly sort of 3-2 win over host Shawinigan Cataractes to open the tournament and the loss here Monday night, is where does this leave Edmonton in the middle of this mix?

The answer is in a fix.

The Sea Dogs resume being favorite. The Oil Kings suddenly go forward as the underdog.

Edmonton has to play on back-to-back nights after playing on a 32C day on brutal ice against a rested London team that just had the same experience and lost 6-2 to the host Shawinigan Cataractes on the back end of their doubleheader.

And what happened here against Saint John Monday announced the fact the Oil Kings haven’t made the adjustment to the incredibly bad ice or wrapped their heads around a few other things about this terrific tournament.

“The teams are so good here, you don’t want to turn pucks over or you’re going to pay a heavy price for it,” said Oil Kings coach Derek Laxdal.

“We shot ourselves in the foot a lot tonight.

“I’m not going to blame the ice. But I am going to blame our stubbornness to deal with it. The team we’re playing next thrives on turnovers.”

Saint John is not only the defending Memorial Cup champions with three consecutive 100-point seasons and three straight 50-win seasons, the Sea Dogs came here with a 16-1 record in the playoffs and 16 players who were on that team last year and 11 players who have been drafted by NHL teams.

“They’ve been here before. They needed a big game and they got a big game,” said Laxdal.

“I was pretty confident we would. We were No. 1 in Canada this year for a reason,” said Gallant.

“The effort wasn’t there in our first game. There’s a lot of pride on this team. We won a lot of games in three years.”

Now Edmonton needs the big game. Will they get it?

“We had some passengers,” said Laxdal.

“We’re a team which needs all 20 guys going. We can’t have passengers. London is rested. We have to be ready to start the game. We played in hot circumstances with a very hot dressing room. The only positive tonight was that we didn’t play overtime.”

There is another positive going forward, however.

The Oil Kings have something to reach back and grab and bring to the game against the Knights. They lost Game 6 in Portland. And with about a 15-hour turnaround, the Oil Kings bounced back and won Game 7 in Edmonton against the Winterhawks.

There’s no flight involved here, just a 35 minute bus trip from Trois Rivieres.

“We’re going to get more rest than we did before Game 7,” said the youngest Oil King of all, Curtis Lazar.

“I’m looking forward to it. We’re involved in a special Memorial Cup by the looks of it. It’s going to be fun to be a part of what happens from here.

“We have to learn our lesson about the turnovers and we have to simplify everything and take everything to the net. We’re still in a great shape if we win and I’m confident in our guys. We have a great group of guys.”

If the kid gets it, maybe the rest will figure it out.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca

 


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